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Why Speed Work Doesn’t Work


Why Speed Work Doesn’t Work

So this article is about why speed work doesn’t work — at least not for the reasons you think it does.

Speed work defined

For now, let’s define speed work as anything under a 7 RPE. If you complete a set and you could have done 5 or more reps, it counts as speed work. If you’re doing doubles or triples with less than 75%, it probably counts. If you’re doing singles with less than 85%, it probably counts. If this is just a warm-up to your heavier work, then it probably doesn’t count as speed work.

Reason #1:  Force output during speed work is crap

If you attempt a squat in a meet and grind it for 15 or 20 seconds, but complete the lift for white lights, yet your competitor completes the same weight in 3 seconds, who wins? Assume both of you move up 5 pounds and miss. The answer is you tie (or win/lose based on bodyweight which is pretty much a tie) because there is NO time component to powerlifting. Despite the name, power (in the physics sense) is not what you care about as a powerlifter.  You care about force.
It’s common meathead knowledge that force equals mass times acceleration and many of you can cite Russian manuals that state, in theory, you can maximize force by maximizing the mass on the bar or the acceleration.

I’m here to tell you that doesn’t work in reality.

I’ve tested it. Peak force production is tied to the weight on the bar. Are you trying to maximize force? Add weight. In real life, you won’t be able to accelerate enough to produce force like you can in a max lift. No way around it. Sure, a set done with maximum acceleration will produce more force than one done with an even tempo.  But only if the weight on the bar is similar.  If you always accelerate maximally, you will produce more force if the weight on the bar is heavier, even though acceleration is less.

For those who want a reason why, here it is. It takes time for your body to ramp up to maximum force (Fmax). In a heavy lift the bar speed is slow enough to get there (or get close). In a light lift, the bar speed is too fast for you to have time to get to Fmax.

Force, the most important quality for a powerlifter, is not practiced with speed work.  Doing speed work does not produce maximal force.  In theory it should, but in real life it doesn’t.  My numbers indicate that even at 75% of 1RM (too heavy to be considered “speed weight” by most), force production is still only 85%.  When you consider that increasing the weight to 90% or 95% yields near-maximum levels of force production, it’s easy to see that when it comes to practicing your ability to produce force, you can’t beat heavy weights.  And if you’re worried about spending too much time with 90-95% loads, please read my previous article “You are not overtrained”.  Don’t be scared.

Reason #2: Technique is not perfected

If you have decent form (i.e. You know what good form is and you can demonstrate it with light weight), then speed work will not help you get better. The weights are typically so light that they involve a different motor pattern than will be used on heavy weight. Besides, it makes far more sense to do technique practice with a weight that challenges your technique (and thus requires you to pay attention and practice) than to do technique practice with something easy.

So why do people do it?

Powerlifting is a pretty simple sport. There is force and technique. Not much else plays a role. Speed work can contribute to hypertrophy, but it’s not ideal.  So why do people seem to get gains from doing speed work?

First, it’s hard to say that speed work gave them the gains. These programming changes are almost never made in isolation, so it easily could have been some other aspect of training.

  • It could have been the increase in frequency. Most lifters go from one heavy squat season a week to one heavy and one light session. In that case I would say that although speed work isn’t ideal, it’s a net win because frequency went up.
  • It can also help those who are chronically beat up.  Since it typically involves lighter weight, it should cause less structural stress, so it can sometimes result in fewer injuries, which allows people to improve more over time.  With that said, I think proper volume management and good general conditioning limits the need for this kind of thing for the vast majority of lifters out there.
  • And lastly, it’s a case of good, better, best. Speed work would likely produce results in someone if they were untrained enough. But that doesn’t mean it is ideal.

If you use speed work in your training, I encourage you to gradually migrate to something heavier. Don’t over-complicate it.  Just gradually use heavier weights.  Your prime work sets need to be at least an 8 RPE if not higher.  No need to thank me — your future PR says it all.

Related Articles

Speed Work: Not this Again by Mike Tuchscherer

Dynamic Effort for Athletes and High Frequency Training by Chad Smith

Mike Tuchscherer is the founder of Reactive Training Systems as well as a competitive powerlifter.  In his own powerlifting career, Mike has racked up wins all over the world including national titles, world records, and IPF world championships.  In 2009, Mike went to Taiwan and became the first American male in history to win the gold medal for Powerlifting at the World Games.  Since, he has been pursuing raw competitions where he has continued to set records and compete among the best on the planet.  Professionally, Mike has coached 12 national champions, 2 IPF world record holders, national record holders in countries throughout the world, pro level multi ply lifters, strongmen, and literally hundreds of lifters who have set incredible personal bests following Mike’s coaching advice
Website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter


  • Anthony

    Would you advise doing singles then for about 8 RPE working up to the heaviest 8 possible, or doing triples like usual speed work just at a heavier weight at about 8

    Because my speed work is triples but they are probably closer to 6 RPE and I dont feel they are working very well with carry over, I dont know if fast singles are more technically efficient

  • Chris

    So…you’re discounting the entire premise of Juggernaut in this post or did I miss something?

    • Chad Smith

      I think it is important to expose you guys to an array of different training ideas. I have a ton of respect for what Mike does as a lifter and coach and am confident he feels the same about me-Chad

  • Keijo W

    It’s important to discuss different ideas even if they stray away from more accepted methods.
    You can always learn something from it. I like the juggernaut method and Chads ideas. They work well for alot of athletes but it’s not for me at this stage of my lifting career.
    I think workable speed work for Mike is in the upper powerlifting intensity range and not the 50-70% mark. But only Mike can confirm that.

  • Keijo W

    Chad please encourage Mike to write more articles for your webpage. They are very well written.

  • Ian

    I’ve read research that found using maximal weights; with the intent to move them as fast as possible, provides the same or stronger neural stimulus as DE work, while still providing the benefits of ME work. Just some food for thought.

    • Johno

      I’m not surprised to hear that but who can do ME twice a week without going backwards? I think the message of this article is brilliant if not immediately obvious from the title (as mike alluded to on FB). Speed work (or perhaps non-near-maximal weights may be a better name in this discussion) may not be the most efficient work with regards to creating neural stimulus when examined as an individual component. Add all the pieces of the jigsaw together into a weekly program, however, and for the reasons Mike explained above it has it’s place. I always thought it was common knowledge that the Westside 50%-65% DE was much too low for raw, free weight only lifters. Pleased to see Mike reaffirm that. I’d love to hear Mikes’ thoughts on using bands and chains solely as a means to develop speed. By the arguments put forward above regarding force development, and the neural ‘training’ of it; is it therefore optimal to use chains (for example) as a tool for speed development for an individual that just can’t take 2 near maximal sessions per week without getting beat up? Before then moving onto heavier weight/the Donnie Thompson method of speed work for eg, as that individual progresses and is able to handle 2 sessions per week at high intensities.

  • Mike Tuchscherer

    Anthony, everything you do should have a purpose. I don’t want to make specific programming recommendations to you without first understanding where you’re coming from. For now, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re doing speed work with the intent to develop force, I would suggest using more weight until you’re at least around an 8 RPE, preferably a 9. Not for every set, but definitely for your hard sets.

  • Mark K

    From my experience speed work does work well for me but using accommodating resistance is a big part of that. Louie talks a lot as well about bands and chains being an important part of speed work. When you look at the breakdown, it’s usually 50-60% plus bands/chains, which has the tendency to raise the weight at least at the top into the 70% range and above. Just my 2 cents, but I tried going heavier on speed day and it did not help, I just got beat up and my max effort workous suffered. I also got noticeably slower.

  • Ryan Frick

    Really great article. I would love to see a follow up article on the application.

  • James

    So if you’re dealing with a lifter who tends to grind even at low percentages (like this guy), how would you address becoming more explosive? An 8 RPE for me looks like a 10 for a more explosive lifter, and I just don’t get a lot of speed out of the hole or off the floor/chest.

    • Mike Tuchscherer

      I wouldn’t worry a whole lot about becoming explosive. You don’t get extra points in powerlifting for being fast. As long as it isn’t just ridiculous (as in taking more than 10 seconds to complete a non-maximal lift), then your speed isn’t going to play a major role.
      I would train at RPE’s of 8+, which is still a pretty huge range and leaves plenty of room for force curve variations.

  • Mike

    What about heavy band work for something like deads for the progressive resistance but not necessarily for speed. For example I might be able to pull a regular bar with 420 but also a bar with 400 and bands thats equal way more than 20 pounds towards the middle?

    • Mike Tuchscherer

      If you’re using this as an overload technique, I think it makes sense. I think it all goes back to your RPE. If you’re using a high level of effort with relatively few reps, then your peak force values are likely going to be high enough to develop more peak force. Using bands, chains, or other devices to overload is a useful tool as well.

  • I notice after doing speed work for a week that I am more efficient at producing an adrenal feeling before each set.

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    • Mike Tuchscherer

      I think “A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads” is right on, Bret. This is what I’ve seen in my own measurements on force. I’ve shown the same pattern in all three competitive powerlifts. And that’s what leads me to determine that, as a single method, there are probably better choices for the development of peak force. Are there instances where “speed work” still makes sense in the larger context of programming? Sure. But I coach a lot of folks and I don’t come across those special cases too often.

  • John

    Very interesting article! I have got to say though I think some people miss understand speed work to begin with anyways; I know I did until read a little bit more articles from Louie Simmons the guy who pretty much introduced the idea of the dynamic effort method to us in the west. He said to use 50-60% of your max squat from a meet on to a box and that should relate to about 70-85% of your box squat max and then if you add in accommodating resistance at the top you are around 85-95% of your box max. So on speed day use the lighter weight but make the lift harder and move as fast as you can. Do box squats and or bottom up dead squats etc. make the lift harder while using light weight.

    • Mike Tuchscherer

      My article isn’t aimed at any one particular philosophy. But I see far too many lifters spending too much time lifting light weights thinking that will make them strong. I think the RPE is more important here than the percentages. If the RPE is 8 or higher, I think you can make a case for force production. If it’s not, then I think you’ll have a hard time making that case.

  • Matt


    Do you think you could please provide some numbers, or link me to where you have please? I’ve done a bit of searching but can’t find any.

    You say you’ve researched force generation in DE and ME work, what were the masses and accelerations you measured? You described your data qualitatively with no actual percentages or raw data, I think these are quite important.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Mike Tuchscherer

      Hi Matt,
      I used a tendo unit to measure force and velocity and also some video motion analysis software. The output for the tendo (primary collection device) was a graph, which allows easy collection of peak force, average force, various velocity measures, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t have the data in a format that allows me to post it easily. I did it mostly for my own purposes, but figured I’d write the article in case anyone else was interested in what I saw. I’ll try to make more data available in the future though — good point.

  • Mike

    I for some reason with band deads feel more activation maybe or at least more of a feel for the muscles I am using and the lift. I do find with other lifts its more trouble than its worth to set up and figure out and I myself am better off just lifting.

    Mike can I send you a video of my squat? I am trying to work on my hip drive like yours?

    • Mike Tuchscherer

      It would be easiest for me if you post it on my forum (link in the signature box of the article). I’d be happy to take a look. If you have any trouble, just send me an email.

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  • Eduardo

    Mike, the Doug Hepburn Method http://www.powerliftingwatch.com/files/The%20Doug%20Hepburn%20Method.pdf could be a good option for developing strength? That is an old, stable and progressive method…

  • Nico

    Im pretty new to lifting, i looked up RPE is that rating of perceived exertion?
    also i am assuming you are suggesting that instead of speed work, you do heavier rep work?
    so instead of doing the typical 8 sets of 2 or 3 reps at 40%. do a certain amount of sets with less than 5 reps using upwards of 70% ??

    im using 5-3-1 and I am loving the simplicity of it, and I am finding that its better to be in the gym 45 minutes going balls to the wall, on 3 exercises and them all having a purpose instead of loading down with exercises hoping they cover everything. no speed work, or “form work” but i try to count every rep and set as one aimed at form and explosiveness, Im feeling this is very good for a beginner aka under 3 years of lifting experience.

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  • Joe R
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  • Erik

    Interesing article. But it is contrary to what Sam Byrd is telling here:
    So what to do?
    Best regards

    • Chad Smith

      Not one thing will work for everyone. What Mike T does is great for him, what Sam does is great for him, take what works for you from what they do and use it for yourself.

  • Sabretruthtiger

    What about fast twitch fibre? Explosive movement adds to strength. This is why we see MMA fighters/wrestlers like Bob Sapp and Bautista slow and unwieldy compared to speed trained heavyweights.

  • Vladimir Sartini

    So, whenever we need to train an athlete we have to consider it’s limiting factors, if it’s resistance we have to increase their resistance, if it’s technical we can to better their technique, if it’s muscular we have to increase that, right ?
    Okay, so, why would speed be any different ? Becausse in the lifter’s given example of one being 3s and the other 20s to finish given lift, one is on absolute strength and the other is on strength-resistance, both were limited but by different factors, and let me elaborate on this…
    Speed training does work, and here is why, if you were to train to increase their vertical jump, and they manage to, the only change ocurred is their force development, if you take it into F=M/a, the only way that they were able to jump higher(by producing greater force) is trough increased acceleration because their Mass hasn’t changed, this argument is regarding wether you can train someone to be faster(produce greater force or speed) or not. Now in regards to it’s carry-over to powerlifting, if you were to have say 100kg on the bar, if you take 20s to lift it up and you take the same weight but now you can do the same it in 3s, hasn’t your max increased? last time i checked, everyone’s 50% moves faster than their 100%. think about it, what is your Max tempo Squat and your regular Squat? They are different, right? So if you teach a lifter that is lifting a given weight slow to lift fast they will increase that lift because they were able to produce a greater Force, something that they were capable of beforehand but not able to, but trough proper training they will, people can only struggle for so long, if im able to strugle for 3x more than my max, first of all, this has never, ever happened, 20s besides fictional has never happened in the real world, you will never see people struggle for more than 2-3s(thus showing bar deceleration and near maximal Force Output), and second that is not my max, other factors are limiting(Psychological maybe, we all have seen those lifter that freakout under a heavy weight and do a Tempo Squat, generally, they fail.)
    Now in a meet speed is not a judging criteria, but it’s definately a weak point of that lifter and should be adressed same way as any other.